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Trying the Feldenkrais Method for Chronic Pain

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Jane Brody writes in the NY Times:

After two hourlong sessions focused first on body awareness and then on movement retraining at the Feldenkrais Institute of New York, I understood what it meant to experience an incredible lightness of being. Having, temporarily at least, released the muscle tension that aggravates my back and hip pain, I felt like I was walking on air.

I had long refrained from writing about this method of countering pain because I thought it was some sort of New Age gobbledygook with no scientific basis. Boy, was I wrong!

The Feldenkrais method is one of several increasingly popular movement techniques, similar to the Alexander technique, that attempt to better integrate the connections between mind and body. By becoming aware of how one’s body interacts with its surroundings and learning how to behave in less stressful ways, it becomes possible to relinquish habitual movement patterns that cause or contribute to chronic pain.

The method was developed by Moshe Feldenkrais, an Israeli physicist, mechanical engineer and expert in martial arts, after a knee injury threatened to leave him unable to walk. Relying on his expert knowledge of gravity and the mechanics of motion, he developed exercises to help teach the body easier, more efficient ways to move.

I went to the institute at the urging of Cathryn Jakobson Ramin, author of the recently published book “Crooked” that details the nature and results of virtually every current approach to treating back pain, a problem that has plagued me on and off (now mostly on) for decades. Having benefited from Feldenkrais lessons herself, Ms. Ramin had good reason to believe they would help me.

In her book, she recounts the experience of Courtney King, who first experienced crippling back spasms in her late 20s. Ms. King was taking several dance classes a week and practicing yoga, and she thought the stress of these activities might be causing the pain in her tight, inflexible back. But after a number of Feldenkrais sessions, she told Ms. Ramin, “I realized that the pain had more to do with the way I carried myself every day.”

Even after just one session, I understood what she meant. When I make a point of walking upright and fluid, sitting straight, even cooking relaxed and unhurried, I have no pain. The slow, gentle, repetitive movements I practiced in a Feldenkrais group class helped foster an awareness of how I use my body in relation to my environment, and awareness is the first step to changing one’s behavior.

One common problem of which I’m often guilty is using small muscles to accomplish tasks meant for large, heavy-duty ones, resulting in undue fatigue and pain.

The group class, called Awareness Through Movement, was followed by an individual session called Functional Integration with a therapist that helped to free tight muscles and joints that were limiting my motion and increasing my discomfort. Using gentle manipulation and passive movements, the therapist individualized his approach to my particular needs.

The ultimate goal of both sessions is, in effect, to retrain the brain – to establish new neural pathways that result in easy, simple movements that are physiologically effective and comfortable. Although the Feldenkrais method was developed in the mid-20th century, neurophysiologists have since demonstrated the plasticity of the brain, its ability to form new cells, reorganize itself and, in effect, learn new ways to do things.

The beauty of Feldenkrais lessons is that they are both relatively low-cost (group classes average $15 to $25, individual sessions $100 to $200) and potentially accessible to nearly everyone. There are more than 7,000 teachers and practitioners working in 18 countries, including large numbers in the United States. You can be any age, strength, fitness level and state of well-being to participate. The exercises are slow, gentle and adjustable to whatever might ail you. Their calming effect counters the stress that results in contracted muscles, tightness and pain.

Many Feldenkrais practitioners, like Marek Wyszynski, director of the New York center, start professional life as physical therapists, although many other practitioners begin with no medical background. They then undergo three years of training to become certified in the Feldenkrais method.

Mr. Wyszynski explained that he starts by observing how patients are using their skeletons – how they sit, stand and walk in ways that may cause or contribute to their pathology, be it spinal disc disease, arthritis, shoulder pain or damaged knee joints. In accordance with Dr. Feldenkrais’s astute observation, “If you don’t know what you are doing, you can’t do what you want,” patients are then given a clear sensory experience of how their posture and behavior contribute to their pain and physical limitations.

For example, some people may use excessive force, clench their teeth, hold their breath or rush, causing undue muscle tension and skeletal stress. Years ago, I realized that my frequent headaches resulted from an unconscious habit of clenching my jaw when I concentrated intently on a task like sewing or cooking. Feldenkrais teachers do not give formulas for a proper way of behaving; rather, they rely on their patients’ ability to self-discover and self-correct.

Once aware of their counterproductive habits, students are given the opportunity to experience alternative movements, postures and behaviors and, through practice, create new habits that are less likely to cause pain. . .

Continue reading.

And read the comments as well. Here’s one, fairly typical:

Kristin   Brooklyn  4 hours ago

I can’t say enough about how effective Feldenkrais is for chronic pain. When I first starting seeing Marek Wyszynski I was ready to get a hip replacement. Even though I was relatively young for such an operation, I was in so much pain I didn’t think there was any other alternative. I’d tried regular physical therapy, acupuncture, massage, even cortisone shots, but was never able to get anything more than temporary relief. Like the author, after one Feldenkrais session I had substantial relief that lasted. I’ve been able to resume yoga, dancing and swimming, but most importantly, I’m no longer in constant pain.
And Feldenkrais works for far more than just chronic pain. I referred a friend’s son, a nationally ranked tennis player who was having trouble with his game following an ankle injury. Marek instantly spotted how he was unduly compensating and throwing off his stroke and he was soon back in winning form. I highly recommend Marek and the Feldenkrais Institute to athletes, dancers, anyone suffering from chronic pain, or anyone who wants to move with greater ease and freedom.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 November 2017 at 12:19 pm

We Evolved to Run—But We’re Doing It All Wrong

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It’s been a while since I ran, but when I did, I favored LSD: long, slow distance. As noted, it becomes a meditative thing, particularly if you are lucky enough to be able to run in natural surroundings. One note: I started getting knee pain, with my knee “grabbing” painfully at random times, particularly when going up steps. I read through the various running magazines I was getting at the time, and found an article from a doctor who said that knee pain is generally from improper foot strike: if the foot strikes crookedly, it puts stress on the knees (and in fact, as I learned, it can go on up the body to affect hips and back). I knew I had flat feet (fallen arches), so I made an appointment with a podiatrist.

As it happened, I had an appointment with my regular GP the morning before my afternoon appointment with the podiatrist. I don’t recall the reason, but after the discussion and recommendations of why I came, he asked how things were going in general, and I mentioned I had an appointment later with a podiatrist for the knee pain. He went into alert mode when I said “podiatrist” and immediately sought to show that a real MD was the proper resource. He had me put my leg up on the table. He felt my knee for a while, pressing here and there, and then gave me his official MD advice: “Stop running.”

I decided to see the podiatrist anyway, and he explained quite cogently how flat arches made one’s foot strike obliquely and that it indeed did stress the knees. He gave me prescription orthotics that raised my arches, and the knee pain went away.

Simon Worrall writes in National Geographic:

These days, running seems to have little to do with survival—it’s all about sport watches and burning calories.

But for our remote ancestors, the ability to run over long distances in pursuit of prey, such as ostrich or antelope, gave us an evolutionary edge—as well as an Achilles tendon ideal for going the distance. (Related: “Humans Were Born to Run, Fossil Study Suggests.”)

In his new book, Footnotes: How Running Makes Us Human, University of Kent researcher Vybarr Cregan-Reid reminds us of this often forgotten history. To him, running is ultimately about freedom and leaving the gadgets behind to connect with nature (he calls treadmills the “junk food of exercise.”)

On the phone from London, the author told National Geographic how he was inspired by his Irish uncle, who ran in the Olympics, and why he believes running barefoot is more natural—and less likely to result in injury.

You definitely win the prize for the most unusual name we have had on Book Talk. Tell us a bit about yourself—and how you got into running.

Both my parents are Irish and Vybarr is derived from an Irish name, Finbar. But it’s a family mystery as to why I’m called Vybarr. There are quite a few stories as to where the name came from but none of them add up.

I have been running on and off since my early 20s, but only properly got into it about 10-15 years ago. I’m now nearly 50. There is running in my family. My uncle on my mother’s side was called Jim Cregan. He thought he couldn’t run under that name if he ran for England instead of Ireland, so he ran for Great Britain under the name of Jim Hogan. He came from 1930s rural Ireland, and my grandparents thought he was mad for being so into running. But he ran and ran, most of the time barefoot. He ran for Ireland and later for Great Britain in two Olympics. He also won a gold at the European championships in 1966.

I have to confess: I am someone who loves sports of all kinds, but I heartily dislike running. Convert me!

The first thing I’d say is, you’re probably not doing it right. Most people dislike running because they have memories of things like running for a bus. That kind of running is usually deeply unpleasant, almost vomit-inducing. Most beginners give up when they get injured because they’ve done too much, too soon. Most of the benefits from running derive from going very slowly.

I’m also suspicious of it being a sport. It doesn’t have to be practiced as one. It’s something innate to who we are as a species. It’s a means of getting in touch with the environment and our own thoughts. It’s also a way of releasing some of those body-made endorphins, almost like a “legal high,” that is actually good for us.

You write, “we are born to run.” Explain the role of running in our evolution—and how it is even reflected in our anatomy. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 August 2017 at 10:35 am

Easing into morning exercise

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I have been excessively sedentary, so as part of the overall Covey program, I’m instituting regular exercise. I certainly shall be focusing on progress rather than performance, because (as I noted this morning) performance right now is pretty dismal. By a happy coincidence, the NY Times this morning feature a 9-minute morning exercise program: The 9-Minute Strength Workout.

It uses 1-minute intervals, and for those this 1-minute repeating timer is useful.

So far, so good.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 April 2017 at 11:08 am

Posted in Daily life, Fitness, Health

Very interesting and simple exercise regimen using body weight

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Oliver Lee Bateman points out this sensible exercise program in Motherboard. He writes:

. . . [O]n reddit’s r/bodyweightfitness, users have joined forces to answer a question being asked by millions of people making their New Year’s exercise resolutions: What is the perfect workout?

The result is an extremely convenient, bodyweight-oriented solution to a mystery that has sold billions of dollars of fitness books, gym memberships, and equipment. Their program, as outlined in this video by YouTube fitness celebrity (and leading r/bodyweightfitness poster) Antranik, consists of three hour-long workouts that utilize simple movements such as planks, l-sits, handstands, and pull-ups—time-tested exercises that trainees were doing in 19th-century gymnasiums. The regimen is intended to be progressive, meaning that trainees will hold these poses for longer amounts of time or perform additional repetitions as they develop greater strength and flexibility.

First-time posters on r/bodyweightfitness typically describe themselves as out of shape and lacking access to a gym or information about fitness and nutrition. For individuals with such limited means and low starting skill levels, the workout would be effective, Equinox trainer Jason Strong told Motherboard. “I watched Antranik’s video and I must say I am impressed,” he said. “The workout is simple but thoroughly thought out. The progressions and regressions are very important. The breakdown of the workout is smart and follows traditional procedures–warm-up, skill movements, strength–and I love the prerequisite to move on to pull-ups. Now, if this is all you ever did, it is lacking rotational movements and stretching, but I do like it.”

Anthony Roberts, a fitness journalist and trainer, agreed with Strong’s assessment but cautioned that the absence of weight training from the workout would slow and eventually limit a trainee’s ability to continue developing total-body strength.

“Bodyweight or gymnastics movements will get you better at those types of movements,” he told Motherboard. “The disadvantage is . . .

Watch this video to get an idea of the progression. It makes sense to me.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 January 2017 at 9:44 am

Posted in Fitness, Video

Why the 10,000 steps

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Victor M., a reader of the blog, passes along an interesting post from MyFitnessPal.com:

It takes 28 steps to walk from your bedroom to your refrigerator and 317 to get to work. If you manage to rack up even a couple thousand steps between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., it’s a pretty good day. Time to hit the gym if you’re going to get 10,000 steps, appease your fitness tracker and edge out your friends on the step-count leaderboard.

But do you really need to hit 10,000 steps per day for better health? Short answer: Not really.

What You Need to Know About the 10,000-Step Recommendation

Pedometers sold in Japan in the 1960s were marketed with the name “manpo-kei,” which means “10,000 steps meter,” according to a Sports Medicine review. Just like that, the number stuck.

And while the original 10,000-step recommendation was anything but scientific, overall, it holds up pretty well in helping the general population improve their health, says Daniel Neides, medical director of the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute. On average, healthy adults take between 4,000–18,000 steps per day, according to a review from the Pennington Biomedical Research Center. And in a 2015 PLOS ONE study, people who increased the number of daily steps from 1,000 to 10,000 cut their risk of death by 46%.

“What we know is that 10,000 steps equates to about 4–5 miles, or an hour to an hour and 15 minutes of brisk walking,” Neides says. “That’s about the midway point of what we are looking for from people in terms of physical activity.” To prevent cardiovascular disease, the sweet spot is 20 minutes–2 hours of aerobic exercise per day, says Neides, noting that heart disease, the number 1 cause of death in the U.S., kills more people than all forms of cancer combined.

That’s why he’s way more concerned with minutes than steps. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention doesn’t have a step recommendation; instead it recommends that adults get 150 minutes of moderate exercise like brisk walking or 75 minutes of vigorous activity like running per week. For anyone counting, that works out to anywhere from 3,500–8,000 steps per day. And, no matter how much aerobic activity you get, the CDC still recommends getting at least two hours of strength exercise per week. That raises an important point: Dumbbells lifted don’t count toward your step count, but they make huge improvements to your overall health, Neides says. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 June 2016 at 3:40 pm

Posted in Business, Fitness

How the body fights back against weight loss

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It’s a multi-pronged counterattack: first, the body cuts back on the amount of leptin and other hormones that trigger satiety, which means you feel hungry more. (I find that a low-carb, high-fat help diet helps here, since digesting fat takes time and produces more satiety per calorie.)

And it also drops your metabolism rate, so that you burn fewer calories, so that a diet that would stabilize your weight previously now adds the pounds. One just has to grow accustomed to smaller plates and smaller portions. I do find that a mid-morning and mid-afternoon snack helps both with satiety and with weight loss. I eat 1/2 apple at each snack, so a total of an apple a day.

Detailed information in this NY Times article, and well worth reading if you’ve ever fought the battle of the pounds. I realize now that I probably must track my food intake permanently because if I simply go on what I feel, my body will deceive me back to slow and steady weight gain.

Right now I’m just about to dip below 200 lbs (again).

UPDATE: I should add that those discussed in the NY Times article had lost a dramatic amount of weight quite quickly. I’m losing weight much more moderately, around 5 lbs/month. It may well be that gradual loss does not trigger the kind of pushback that rapid loss does.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 May 2016 at 9:40 am

One minute a day of strenuous exercise has same health and fitness benefit as 45 minutes of moderate exercise

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Very interesting article in the NY Times by Gretchen Reynolds. The core:

. . . One group was asked to change nothing about their current, virtually nonexistent exercise routines; they would be the controls.

A second group began a typical endurance-workout routine, consisting of riding at a moderate pace on a stationary bicycle at the lab for 45 minutes, with a two-minute warm-up and three-minute cool down.

The final group was assigned to interval training, using the most abbreviated workout yet to have shown benefits. Specifically, the volunteers warmed up for two minutes on stationary bicycles, then pedaled as hard as possible for 20 seconds; rode at a very slow pace for two minutes, sprinted all-out again for 20 seconds; recovered with slow riding for another two minutes; pedaled all-out for a final 20 seconds; then cooled down for three minutes. The entire workout lasted 10 minutes, with only one minute of that time being strenuous.

Both groups of exercising volunteers completed three sessions each week for 12 weeks, a period of time that is about twice as long as in most past studies of interval training.

By the end of the study, published in PLOS One, the endurance group had ridden for 27 hours, while the interval group had ridden for six hours, with only 36 minutes of that time being strenuous.

But when the scientists retested the men’s aerobic fitness, muscles and blood-sugar control now, they found that the exercisers showed virtually identical gains, whether they had completed the long endurance workouts or the short, grueling intervals. In both groups, endurance had increased by nearly 20 percent, insulin resistance likewise had improved significantly, and there were significant increases in the number and function of certain microscopic structures in the men’s muscles that are related to energy production and oxygen consumption.

There were no changes in health or fitness evident in the control group. . .

The research was done by scientists at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 April 2016 at 4:18 pm

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